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Suicide: Member shares father's story, encourages others to seek help

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Susan Gladstein
  • 161st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
As I hear songs from the sixties I am reminded of trips with my dad to the Fort Worth Zoo and learning how to drive while sitting in his lap.

These memories are bittersweet. I will never be able to see my dad again; he wasn't there at my wedding or to see me join the Air Force. He won't be there to be a grandfather for my children. It wasn't because of a tragic car accident or a physical disease; it's because of suicide.

I was 14 when my dad hanged himself. He suffered from bipolar disorder, a disease that affects millions each year. Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder life can be like an emotional roller coaster. One day your mood is low and you feel sad. Then your mood gets really high and you feel great. Then the sadness comes back.

I didn't understand it at the time, but I can remember when I was small that my dad would sleep all day and all night long. I couldn't understand why he would want to sleep when he could be playing outside or watching baseball. I can remember other times when he was full of life and creativeness. He would write Saturday Night Live-type skits and videotape them for us. He wrote children's books and was quite the comedian. Unfortunately, these differences in behavior are symptoms of bipolar disorder.

According to, the disorder can be hard to detect because the symptoms can be similar to other mood disorders. Some people have the condition for 10 years or more before a healthcare provider diagnoses it.

This may be because of the symptoms. When people are feeling manic or hypomanic, they are full of energy. They usually feel good. They feel "high on life" and don't always seek help.

On the other hand, people are more likely to seek help when they are depressed. When people feel depressed, they are likely to describe only depression symptoms to their healthcare provider. They may not mention the times when they are feeling "high on life," since depression is what they are feeling at the time. Therefore, it's common for a person to be incorrectly diagnosed with major depression instead of bipolar disorder.

In fact, nearly half of all patients who have bipolar disorder will first be diagnosed with major depression. That's why it's important for people to say how they've been feeling over the last several weeks and even months to their healthcare provider in order to make it easier for the right diagnosis.

Even after 17 years, no one knows why my father did what he did. We will probably always wonder and I will have to live with what he did for the rest of my life.

No matter how bad a situation may seem, anyone who considers suicide as the only way out should think of his or her family or friends who will be forever affected by any life-ending decision. Talk to them about how you're feeling.

In 2010, Air Force suicides hit a 17-year high and officials state that relationship problems remain the number one reason Airmen decide to end their lives. In addition to relationship problems, other risk factors include a history of mental health issues, alcohol use, financial problems and deployments.

There are numerous people or programs available for those who need help. With a little searching, you can find numerous Web sites that provide information on suicide, suicide statistics or support groups for survivors of suicide. For immediate help, call a chaplain or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Most importantly, get help.